After visiting the Kumbhalgarh Fort, Ranakpur, the Krishna Temples at Kankroli and Nathdwara, and the Sajjan Garh Palace, we were now on the last leg of our trip to Mewar, Rajasthan, and had two full days to take in the beauty of Udaipur, the City of Lakes and Palaces. This beautiful city is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’, ‘Most Romantic City of India’ and ‘The Kashmir of Rajasthan’.
Udaipur was the capital of the kingdom of Mewar, ruled by the Sisodia clan of Rajputs. The founder of Udaipur was Maharana Udai Singh II, father of Maharana Pratap. Udaipur was founded in 1559, when a hermit blessed the king and asked him to build has palace at a spot on the east ridge of the Pichola Lake. In 1568, the Mughal emperor Akbar captured Chittaurgarh, and Udai Singh moved the capital to the site of his new residence, which became the city of Udaipur. As the Mughal empire weakened over the years, the Sisodia Maharanas recaptured most of Mewar district. Udaipur remained the capital of the state, which became a princely state of British India in 1818.
After India’s independence in 1947, the Maharaja of Udaipur acceded to the Government of India, and Mewar was integrated into India’s Rajasthan state.
22-July-2014: Tuesday: Lake Pichola, Jagdish Temple, City Palace, Gangaur Ghat and Dharohar at Bagore ki Haveli.
I went for a morning walk along NH8 and walked for about 2 km from our Club Mahindra resort, towards Ahmedabad. There were a few dhabas and petrol stations along the road. Finally I found a grocery shop from where I bought bread and some cheese, which we had for breakfast. After breakfast I went down to the hotel pool for a refreshing swim.
We spent the rest of the morning relaxing and exploring the resort. We had a yummy lunch of ‘American Chop Suey’ at the restaurant, followed by an hour long siesta in our cool air-con room.
At 4.30 pm we walked down to the rickshaw stand located across the highway. There were only 6-seater sharing rickshaws available, since the resort is located about 10 km from Udaipur. So we chartered a 6-seater for Rs.100 which took us closer into town, from where we could hire another 3-seater rickshaw. We struck a bargain with a 3-seater rickshaw driver who agreed to drop us to Lake Pichola and then pick us up at 8 pm from Bagore ki Haveli and drop us back to our resort in time for dinner. He dropped us at the Lake Jetty at 5 pm. We exchanged our cellphone numbers and parted company.
After strolling for a while along the lake shore we started walking towards the famous Jagdish Temple. We walked along the street lined with artifact and curio shops, for about 2 km, till we reached Jagdish Temple. Geeta did some real shopping, while I did the window shopping and photo snapping.
Jagdish Temple appeared at the end of a stiff climb in the road, and was located at the top of a steep flight of stairs. The entrance gate was flanked by two carved marble elephants. The temple looked very impressive with its beautiful wall carvings. The Jagdish Temple is located very near to the Tripolia Gate of the City Palace. It can be seen rising high above the surrounding buildings.
We took off our footwear after ascending the steps and left them in the free shoe racks provided there before entering the sanctum. Many devotees leave their footwear at the roadside at the bottom of the steps.
There are many exquisite carvings on the temple walls, among which is the black stone image of Lord Vishnu as Jagannath, Lord of the Universe. Facing the entrance, in an enclosed shrine is a bronze winged statue of Garuda, who was the steed of Lord Vishnu and carried the God on his back.
The musical bhajans and prayers being sung within the temple gave us the feeling of peace and harmony.
The temple is open from 4.15 am to 1 pm in the morning, and 5.15 pm to 8 pm in the evening. There is no entry fee, but photography is prohibited inside the sanctum. A water cooler is provided for cold drinking water just outside the sanctum.
After darshan at the temple we walked down to Gangaur Ghat and had a drink of hot chocolate at ‘Jheel’s Rooftop Restaurant’, which was located at the water front.
We had already visited the renowned City Palace of Udaipur during an earlier trip. It is the most famous landmark and tourist attraction of Udaipur.
For anyone visiting Udaipur, the City Palace, situated on the eastern banks of Lake Pichola, is a must see. It is a huge conglomeration of palaces built over 400 years. Its construction was started by Maharana Udai Singh II in the 16th century and further additions were made by other Rajput maharajas of the Sisodia clan.
You have to purchase tickets to enter the palace complex. The charges are Rs.115 per adult and Rs.250 if you want to click photos. Guides can be hired between Rs.200 to Rs.250. There are separate charges of Rs.550 if you want to visit the crystal gallery.
This palace has a unique architecture, with jharokhas, courtyards, balconies, cupolas, columns and towers. It is supposedly one of the biggest palaces in India. You have to be prepared to spend at least 2 hours if you really want to explore all the rooms, passages, terraces, patios and apartments. You literally have to squeeze through some of the narrow staircases. There are fascinating exhibits, wall paintings, murals, silver work, inlay work, colour glass mosaics and curios to be seen.
One can get beautiful views of the city and Lake Pichola from the upper terraces. You have not really visited Udaipur if you have not been to the City Palace. It will give you the feel of the royal culture and experience the erstwhile glory of the Mewar dynasty.
We entered Bagore ki Haveli at 6.45 pm. This heritage home was built in the 18th century by a former nobleman of the Mewar state. It is a short walk from the Jagdish Temple at Gangaur Ghat on the banks of Lake Pichola. It is open for viewing from 10 am to 7 pm and there is a small entry fee.
The Haveli has been diligently restored. The 138 rooms set around courtyards depict how the Rajasthani noblemen used to live in the past, and exhibit the traditional arts and crafts of the region.
Impressive folk dance performances in the Mewari and Rajasthani style, called ‘Dharohar’ are held at ‘Bagore ki Haveli’ every evening from 7 pm to 8 pm, and are worth witnessing. The word ‘dharohar’ means inheritance, and these artistes have taken it upon themselves to preserve the colourful culture and tradition of the region in a very beautiful way, in one of the courtyards of their old but restored Haveli.
There is an entry fee of Rs.60 per person (Rs.100 for foreigners) and Rs.100 for any type of camera. After you enter you have to find yourself a suitable place to sit around the neem tree in the courtyard, just as you would do in a Rajasthani village, and settle down for the show to start. The earlier you arrive the better your chances of getting a good vantage point to capture all the action.
“Padharo mhare desh Rajasthan”. The speaker welcomes you to his Land, and explains what each of the dances signifies, both in English as well as in Hindi. The dances are indeed performed very well and keep you spellbound. The bright and ornamental costumes also serve to highlight the colourful traditions of the region.
There’s one slot for a puppet show in which some kids from the audience are selected to take part, making it more interactive and humorous.
This is one show you must not miss, to get an insight into the culture and traditions of Rajasthan.
After watching the show we called our rickshaw man, Hyder Ali, who turned up as promised, to drive us back to our resort in time for dinner.
There was a good buffet spread at the Club Mahindra resort restaurant. We had a choice of chicken 65 (starter), dum gosht gravy, salads, biryani, raita, malai kofta, dal, and a pasta dish. There were a variety of sweet dishes, but we settled for the ice-cream.
23-July-2014: Wednesday: Hathi Pol, Gulab Bagh, Lake Pichola, Dudh Talai, Karni Mata ropeway, Lake Fateh Sagar, Sukhadiya Circle, Saheliyon ki Bari.
We had a long day ahead as we had to check out by 11 am, but our train was scheduled to depart from Udaipur at 9.30 pm. I booked a cab through ‘Falcon Tours’ to pick us up at 11 am and drive us round Udaipur’s remaining tourist attractions.
Our first halt was at Hathi Pol where Geeta did some shopping for Rajasthani dresses, mojris and trinkets. After finishing the shopping we had some coconut water and pineapple juice, and got back into the cab to go to Gulab Bagh.
Sajjan Niwas Garden is a large garden situated immediately below the embankment of Pichola Lake. It is more commonly known as ‘Gulab Bagh’ because a small part of the garden is dedicated to growing roses (gulab). The gardens were laid out by Maharana Sajjan Singh in the 19th century.
There is a small zoo and a toy train running around the periphery, hence it is an ideal outing with your little kids. We were more fascinated by the numerous squirrels playing around and feeding at our feet.
‘Victoria Hall’ is a building in the garden which houses a reading room and library. The vast open gardens, huge trees and shady pathways make these gardens an ideal place for a peaceful morning and evening walk as well.
After a leisurely stroll in Gulab Bagh our cabbie, Firoj Khan, suggested that we have lunch at the rooftop restaurant of Hotel Padmimi Palace, since the other rooftop restaurants around Lake Pichola are open only in the evenings, being off-season now. This restaurant was air-con and had an aerial view of the haveli rooftops, but not much of the lake. The food was quite tasty and reasonably priced.
After lunch we decided to take a boat ride on Pichola Lake, from the jetty near Dudh Talai. The charges for a 20 minute boat ride was Rs.100 per person. We saw the City Palace, Lake Palace (Jag Niwas), Jag Mandir, The Oberoi Trident and other lakeside hotels and havelis from close quarters while riding around the lake.
After the boat ride we went to Dudh Talai for a cable car ride up to Karni Mata mandir. Dudh Talai (Milky Lake) is a small lake sandwiched in between Lake Pichola and Machala Magra (Fish Hill). It is very close to the south end jetty of Lake Pichola.
There are two gardens on either side, one is the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Park, with the musical fountains and rock garden, and the other is the Manik Lal Verma Park, which is at an elevation leading up to Machala Magra.
Dudh Talai gardens are the favourite haunts for the locals as well as tourists who like to come and spend a quiet evening watching the sunset over Lake Pichola, between the far hills. One can take a stroll in the beautifully laid out rock garden and enjoy the musical fountains in the evening. Camel rides can be had nearby.
One can take a cable car ride from near Deen Dayal Park, up to the Karni Mata temple situated high up on Machla Magra, from where one can get a bird’s eye view of Udaipur.
Rain clouds were gathering above Udaipur and it started raining while we were up on the Machla Magra hill. We had some good views of the city from atop the hill and I got some stunning photos. The ropeway shuts down if there is heavy rain or wind so we came down by 5 pm and whiled away one hour having fresh pop-corn hot from the machine followed by a cup of tea.
We departed from Dudh Talai at 6 pm and I told Firoj Khan to drive us to Fateh Sagar Lake and Sukhadia Circle.
Fateh Sagar is the second big lake amongst the seven lakes of Udaipur. It lies to the north of Lake Pichola and is connected to it by a canal. It has a small island which has a public park, known as Nehru Garden. Another small island at the far end houses the Udaipur Solar Observatory.
The lakeside is more open and less crowded by buildings than Lake Pichola. There are some food stalls and vendors on one side, where the local people come to spend the evening and enjoy the breeze from the lake. The promenade along the dam wall on the eastern side of the lake is good for long walks and many of the local citizens come here for their morning and evening walks. Some of the locals can be seen jumping into the lake and enjoying a quick swim.
Boat rides, including speed boats, are available which take you around the lake, but there is not much to see except the Nehru Garden in the middle of the lake. The boat ride on Lake Pichola is more interesting.
When you are passing Sukhadia Circle in your vehicle you will not realise that there is a nice garden and a large pond encircling a tall and beautiful fountain. You can only see the upper part of the fountain, unless you get down from your car and walk into the green enclosure.
Situated in front of the Railway Training School at the junction of Moti Magri Road and the Jodhpur Road, Sukhadiya Circle has a very tall fountain surrounded by a fairly large pond and neatly laid out green parks embedded with beautiful flowers and herbs.
The fountain is lit up in the evening and many locals come to have a paddle boat ride in the duck shaped boats, or an evening walk around the pond. There are many food stalls where they can be seen enjoying some snacks or ice-cream.
It’s best to visit this attraction during the evening, if you are spending more than 3 days in Udaipur, and are staying near Moti Magri area.
We also visited Saheliyon ki Bari. This is a small but beautiful garden near Sukhadia Circle and Lake Fateh Sagar. There is a nominal entry fee, and it is worth visiting if you are sight-seeing other nearby attractions. We took a short break here, and were truly refreshed by the lovely water fountains, lotus ponds, green lawns, and the exotic plants and flowers.
The fountains are fed by water gushing in from the Lake Fateh Sagar nearby. The elephant shaped fountains are set around beautiful lotus pools and marble pavilions. The garden was built by Maharana Sangram Singh II in the early part of the 18th century for a group of forty eight young women attendants who accompanied a princess to Udaipur, as part of her dowry.
When the fountains are working, the sound of the water flowing and pattering down on the leaves and plants make you feel as if you are in a rain forest, and refreshes you on a hot and sunny day.
There is also a small museum exhibiting some items and artefacts from the royal households.
We reached Hotel Nataraj near the Railway Station by 7 pm and had an early dinner here, so that we had sufficient time to board our train to Mumbai, departing at 9.30 pm.
This brings me to the end of our seven day sojourn to the royal district of Mewar in Rajasthan. We enjoyed the regal palaces and havelis, the bountiful nature in the hills, forests, lakes, flora and fauna, the sanctity and serenity of it’s temples, and the hospitality of the Rajput people. I know that there are still more places to see and explore here, and hope to come back for another trip to Mewar sometime in the future.